The film Bimal Roy is best remembered for, this 1963 classic remains on the all time favourite lists of many a Hindi film aficionado, as much for its haunting music and storyline as for a powerhouse performance by Nutan.
Set in 1930s undivided Bengal, Nutan plays Kalyani, a Vaishnav poetry-reciting young village girl who leads a simple life. She comes in contact with a revolutionary, Bikash, actively involved in the ongoing freedom struggle, and is soon in love with him. Circumstances lead Bikash to declare that Kalyani is his wife, and he promises to marry her as soon as he can. But he disappears, putting Kalyani in an awkward situation.
Forced to emigrate to the town, she works in a jail. Deputed to look after for a mentally unstable woman, Kalyani is shocked to discover that she is Bikash's wife. The news of her father's death reaches her at this moment. Unable to bear this double shock, and the tantrums of Bikash's wife, Kalyani kills her and is imprisoned for life. All this is told in flashback to the jailor, who in turn narrates the tale to Deven, a doctor who is impressed by Kalyani's character and dedication to duty. Deciding to marry her, Deven gets Kalyani's sentence commuted. But on the way to Deven's house, Kalyani runs into a terminally ill Bikash, placing her at a crossroad…
Many consider Bandini to be Roy's most complete work, though it was made almost a decade after his other much acclaimed work, Do Bigha Zameen (1953). Roy adapted Charuchandra Chakravarty's short story to reflect the choices in a woman's life, especially in a socially constricted era. A rare feminist film in an industry where the male gaze still remains paramount in mainstream cinema. Compared to the rather grandiose filmmakers of his times, Roy's films are almost minimalist. The upheavals in his films may be as catastrophic as in Mehboob Khan, K Asif or Raj Kapoor film, but often none but the character is transformed. Bandini, his last directorial venture, conforms to this pattern.
Part of the genius lay in his choosing Nutan to play the role. Nutan had to be persuaded, as she had quit acting after her marriage. But as she was considered to be the most consummate actress of her times and perhaps the only one to internalise a character, Roy cajoled her to perform the role that today she is most remembered for. And with the script's backing, Nutan performed the role with an intensity rarely seen on screen. It helped that the gaze was almost always hers and the audience sensibilities were moulded to see her actions in a sympathetic way.
She was ably supported by Ashok Kumar (Bikash), while Tarun Bose as the jailor and Raja Paranjpye as her father excelled. One of later superstar Dharmendra's earliest films, it sees him in a soft, urbanised role that he was to reprise repeatedly in the 1960s.
A brilliantly shot film, there are many passages in the film that leave a deep imprint on the watcher - a classic example being with the final conflict between love and security as Kalyani is deciding between Bikash and Deven. Or the way the camera captured the contrast between the relationship Kalyani shares with Bikash and Deven. And the final proposal of marriage Kalyani gets from Bikash and Deven. The welding scene when she murders Bikash's wife is already textbook material for students of Bollywood.
S D Burman's music for the film received widespread acclaim. As for the songs - mere saajan hain us paar, o panchhi pyare, ab ke baras bhej bhaiyya ko babul, mora gora rang lai le, jogi jab se tu aayaa mere dware - there has rarely been a film with a greater number of memorable songs. Mora gora rang... also marked a memorable cinematic debut for Gulzar.
The cinematography is especially brilliant, and combined with Roy's genius in using subtle yet evocative imagery, the film seems to be straight from the heart. Sentimental but thriving in the strength of the central character, whose physical imprisonment may have been imposed, but whose final choice, confinement, is of her making.